This semester I have been teaching an African-American Literature course as part of our junior/senior elective program. The class has been a place where eighteen students and I can grapple with the difficult issues of race, and identity. As a way to include parents in some of the discussions we’re having in class, I invited parents to read the first novel and come together for a book chat. That novel, A Lesson Before Dying, by Ernest Gaines is the story of a young black man who is arrested and sentenced to death in 1940’s Louisiana. In an effort to avoid the death penalty, the young man’s attorney compares him to a hog in his appeal to the all-white jury. The novel is the story of how the only educated black man in the community attempts to teach the young man that he is a human being of worth and value before he dies.
Judy Goldman hosted our parent gathering and for two and a half hours we talked about the novel, shared our own stories, and ate delicious food. I enjoyed the opportunity to discuss with parents a few of the topics that interested their children and provided for full-throated debate as we read during class. I write this because I would very much like to see us do more of this as a school. I’ll be encouraging teachers to host similar events and I hope that you will attend. In the meantime, ask your son or daughter to borrow a book they’ve read this year in English class. It will give you a glimpse into some of the topics they’ve been talking about in class and might provide for a good dinner table conversation or two.» read more